Living Stones

Sunday May 10th 2020

1 Peter 2:2-10

Pastor Galen Zook

Living Stone

Today we begin a new sermon series entitled “Chosen and Precious,” which comes from our New Testament  lesson for today, The second chapter of 1st Peter, in which Peter refers to Jesus as the “cornerstone, chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6).

Peter actually talks about a number of different metaphors related to stones in this passage, and it’s a little hard to keep track. He starts off referring to Jesus as a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:4).

The phrase “living stone” sounds like the name for a rock band, sort of like the Grateful Dead. It’s a paradox, right? I mean, how can a stone be alive? Stones are in many ways the definition of something that appears to be lifeless. 

But here Peter is referencing an analogy that had been used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In the book of Psalms, for example, God is referred to as our rock and our fortress. The One that we can build our lives upon. A sure foundation.

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah said “Thus says the Lord God, See I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: ‘One who trusts will not panic’” (Isaiah 28:16).

The Stone that Was Rejected

Although God is our rock and our refuge, and our sure foundation, the rock that we can and should build our lives upon, so often we as people turn away from God, refuse to look to God for our source of strength and hope. We cling to so many people and things other than God, we try to build our lives on so many things that are fragile and meaningless in comparison to God.

The apostle Peter knew this all too well. He had been one of Jesus’s core disciples, had given up everything to follow him. He has listened to Jesus teach, had watched him cast out demons, and had even walked on water with Jesus. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, when he was arrested and tried and beaten, Peter had turned away from him. He had denied that he even knew Jesus.

Now, keep in mind that Peter’s name means “rock!” Peter was not actually his birth name. Peter was the nickname that Jesus had given to him, sort of like calling him “Rocky.”

But even Peter, The Rock, had turned away from Jesus in his hour of need. 

And, just as it had been predicted throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was rejected by the religious and the political leaders, and even by many of his other disciples, like a stone that builders cast to the side because it doesn’t seem to fit with the other ones. 

Peter, quoting from the book of Isaiah, wrote “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner” (1 Peter 2:7, Psalm 118:22).

Picture construction workers at a building site, sorting through stones as they’re constructing a wall. They come to a stone that just doesn’t fit, it’s so different from all the other ones that it seems unusable, and so they toss it to the side.

But then, later on they’re looking for a stone that they can use as a cornerstone. The cornerstone (or foundation stone or setting stone) is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones are set in reference to this stone, determining the position of the entire structure.

The Cornerstone

We often think of cornerstones as more of a decorative or commemorative element, like the cornerstone on our church building that states the name of our church and when it was first built. Our cornerstone even has the name of the stone chapel that was built before the rest of the sanctuary was completed.

But in biblical times, the cornerstone was the stone that would have been used to compare and to measure all of the other stones as they were being built. The cornerstone was the most important stone because it set the pattern, the template, for the rest of the building. 

So I can just imagine the builders looking around, wondering what stone they are going to use for the cornerstone, and then one of them trips over the stone that had been tossed to the side, and says “here it is! This is the one that we need. This is the perfect stone for the cornerstone. It didn’t fit with all the other ones. It wouldn’t have worked for the regular wall, but it’s going to be perfect to serve as the foundation stone.”

I think that’s exactly what happened for Peter and the other disciples when Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus had been rejected by all of the religious and political leaders of their day and even the disciples doubted whether he was truly the Messiah. But when Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning and appeared to them filled them with the power of the holy Spirit, their lives were never the same again. They realized that Jesus was indeed the foundation that they could build their lives upon. 

And so the best term that Peter can come up with for Jesus is that he is a living stone. He is surely not a dead stone, he is very much alive, but he is the very strong foundation that we can build our lives upon!

Peter says that Jesus is “chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6).

Living Stones

Then Peter says something rather shocking. Because in the same breath as he refers to Jesus as a living stone, chosen and precious, he points out that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ are also called to be living stones! (1 Peter 2:5). We are called to be people who embody the living Jesus inside of us, people who are bearers of the Good News. We who have the spirit of God living in us and working through us, we too are chosen and precious stones!

Like stones that have been built into a beautiful church building, we too are to be built together into a beautiful place of worship, where Jesus Christ is adored and glorified. Each and every one of us, together as a church — we are to be a place of safety and rest, a place of prayer, a house of worship with Jesus as our cornerstone.

We are not the foundation, only Christ is. But we have been chosen, and we have been called! The apostle Peter refers to us as “a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that [we] might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness and into his marvelous light”! (1 Peter 2:9).

Chosen and Precious

Peter says that once we were not a people — and that’s true. We were not “a people.” We are many different peoples, we come from all sorts of different backgrounds, different races and ethnicities, and different nationalities. Peter was particularly speaking to Gentiles, who were originally not originally part of God’s chosen people, the Israelites. But now, he says, all of us — Jews and Gentiles alike, have been chosen to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, to proclaim the mighty acts of God.

Just as the Israelites were called to carry God’s light to the nations, now all who put their faith and trust in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike, have been chosen to carry God’s love and light into all the world. Just as we have received mercy, we are to extend God’s mercy to others. Just as we have been justified, or made right with God, now we are called to pursue justice and righteousness in the world. And just as God has made peace with us through Christ’s shed blood on the cross, now we are to be people who extend God’s peace to those around us.

And so Peter says, “come to him…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

Like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

This morning, would you let yourself be built into a spiritual house for the living God to work in and through you? 

Will you open yourself up to the stone who was rejected by men, but who has since been seen to be the true cornerstone, the strong foundation rock that we can build our lives upon?

Will you open yourself up to allow God to work in and through you?

In this time that we are living in today we need the light of Christ to shine even brighter than ever. So many people are hurting and dying, so many people are hopeless and without Christ. But God has chosen us, God has called us to be a light in this world, to break down the walls of injustice, to be people of peace who allow God to speak truth and light and hope through us. 

And so this morning let’s come to Jesus, the chosen and precious living stone, the foundation that we can build our lives upon. Let’s give ourselves to Jesus. Let’s renew our commitment to him, and let’s allow God to form and shape us into a spiritual house of worship, to carry forth God’s light to the world!

Back to the Basics

Sunday May 3rd 2020

Acts 2:42-47

Pastor Galen Zook

Comfort Foods

In times of tragedy and crisis, we often find ourselves going “back to the basics.” We become concerned with (and some might even become obsessed with) ensuring that all of our basic needs will be met.  We want to make sure that we have food to eat, water to drink, clothes to wear. These things that many of us so often take for granted move to the forefront of our minds when we’re concerned that we’re not going to have enough. 

In the first few days after news of the coronavirus broke and it became apparent that our society was going to experience massive shutdowns, people rushed out to buy toilet paper, bread, milk, and eggs — as if we were preparing for a snowstorm. Then as it became clear that this was going to last for a while, people began to stock up on dried goods such as pasta, rice, flour, and canned goods such as pasta sauce. Even now it’s difficult to find many of these items in the store. 

But in addition to these basic necessities, I found it fascinating that stores were also selling out of things like banana bread mix, and chocolate chip cookie batter — things that we might consider “comfort foods.” 

It turns out that many people have been baking more during the quarantine. CBS news actually did a story on this, referring to it as #QuarantineBaking. Apparently yeast sales were up 400% in the last month, and Google searches for banana bread recipes have spiked four-fold. The CEO of the Vermont-based King Arthur company said that their sales for the month of March rivaled the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday baking season.

Part of the reason for all of this, is that only are we stuck inside the house with more time to do things like bake, but in addition, for many people, myself included, baking is a way to relieve stress, and it helps bring a sense of peace and control in unpredictable times. The smell of banana bread baking is good for the soul.

The Early Believers

In the weeks and months following Jesus’s death and resurrection, Jesus’s disciples also experienced a sort of “return to the basics.” Following Jesus’s ascension into heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, the book of Acts tells us that the early believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

For the disciples who were grieving the loss of their friend and teacher (who they now realized was also their Lord and Savior), I imagine that coming together to break bread together, to fellowship, and to talk about Scriptures and Jesus’s teachings gave them a sense of peace, and comfort in the midst of the chaos.

Of course, at the same time, as a community they were experiencing miraculous signs and wonders, and God was moving in their midst in a mighty and powerful way. People were being healed and turning to Jesus in massive numbers. Three thousand people were added to the community of disciples on the Day of Pentecost alone! Many of the followers of Christ were selling their possessions and goods and distributing what they had to those who were in need.

And the book of Acts tells us that “day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).

Breaking Bread Together

For those early Christians, breaking bread together was not just about making sure that their basic needs were being met. It was also a way of remembering Jesus, who referred to himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), and who had instructed his disciples to remember the sacrifice that he made for them and for us every time they broke bread together. 

As I mentioned last week, when we participate in Holy Communion, we break bread as a reminder that Jesus’s body was broken for us, and we drink wine/grape juice as a reminder that Jesus’s blood was shed for us. 

In this season when we cannot come together to partake in Communion together, we are encouraging the practice of the Love Feast, or Agape Meal, which can be done in your own home, around your dinner table, as you share food and testimonies and prayers and Scripture readings with the other members of your household, or as you connect with other believers by way of phone or the internet.

For the early believers in the book of Acts, breaking bread and sharing meals together was also a way for them to share tangibly the Good News about Jesus Christ with those around them, through word and deed. As they shared their bread with those who were hungry, I imagine that they also shared with them about Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, who gave his life for them. 

Sharing their bread with the hungry was a practical way for the early disciples to minister to those in need. In sacrificially selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds to those who were hungry, they were following in the footsteps of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for us. When they received thanks and gratitude from those with whom they shared their food, I imagine those early disciples saying, “oh this is nothing in comparison to what Jesus did for you and for me! Let me tell you about Him!”=

And in this way, as they fellowshipped and broke bread together, as they prayed and studied the words of Jesus, as they welcomed people into their community, and as they reached out to those around them, the Church grew, and “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

Back to the Basics

I believe that in a similar way, God has been calling us back to the basics during this time. In this season with the Coronavirus pandemic, we are being reminded of what truly matters. Many of us are coming to grips with our own mortality, and with the finitude of life, especially as instances of the coronavirus are starting to hit closer to home. 

As a church, we’re also being reminded of what it means to be the Church. We’re being reminded that the church is not about a building, or rituals, or ceremonies, but ultimately it’s about connecting with God and with one another, and we’re learning new and different ways to do that by way of technology.

The Coronavirus pandemic is also bringing to the surface the stark realities of injustice in our world and in our society. The differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the reality that so many people are living paycheck to paycheck or cannot afford even the basic necessities of life, while others have more money and resources than they know what to do with. 

I believe that in this time, we as the Church are being called to stand up for those who are oppressed and marginalized. We are being called to share our bread with those around us who are in need — and in so doing, to point them to the One who gave his life for us, who sacrificed Himself to bring about our salvation. We are being called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through both word and deed, to minister to both the physical and the spiritual needs of those around us.

Some of us do that through serving at the Food Pantry housed here at our church — and I’m so grateful for those in our church and community who have continued serving or who have stepped in to serve during this season. Others of us might have places of influence within our companies or organizations, and we can encourage our employers to adopt policies that ensure the safety and well-being of those under their leadership.

Others of us might choose to utilize social media to spread positive messages, in the midst of so much fear and anxiety, and to spread truth in a time of so much misinformation. All of us can minister to our friends and loved ones by calling them on the phone to check in with them, and offering a word of encouragement and support. 

And we can all invite our friends and family to “attend church” with us, through tuning into livestreaming worship services each Sunday morning. It’s never been easier to invite people to attend church with us than now, since people can join in from the comfort of their own homes. And since most other events are cancelled for the time being, there are a lot fewer things competing for their time and attention!

There are many other ways that we can share our “bread” with those around us during this season, and in so doing to point them to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

My prayer is that we, like the early followers of Jesus, would be ready and willing to share the physical and spiritual resources that we have with those around us, and that we too would be known for our “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:26), and that we too would continually give God praise, as we spend time in the Word and in prayer and in ministering to those around us. May God add to our number daily as we share the Good News of Jesus Christ through Word and deed!

Dinner with Jesus

Sunday April 26th 2020

Luke 24:13-35

Pastor Galen Zook

So Sad that They Couldn’t See Straight

There’s a saying that we use to describe someone who is experiencing intense anger. We say that they are “so mad that they can’t see straight.” The same thing happens when we experience intense feelings of sadness or grief or shock. Sometimes our eyes are so filled with tears that we literally can’t see, but other times we are in such shock that we feel numb. We feel like we’re moving in slow motion, or that we’re walking around in a fog. 

The two travelers on the road to Emmaus late that Sunday afternoon were so sad and confused that they couldn’t see straight. I imagine them walking with their heads down, staring at the ground, perplexed and grieved. 

One of the travelers was named Cleopas — we don’t know the other traveler’s name. I like to imagine that perhaps they were a husband and wife, or perhaps a brother and sister. 

These two travelers had been followers of Jesus, had heard him teach and preach. Most likely they were two of the seventy-two who had been sent out to preach and heal in Jesus’s name in Luke chapter 10. Perhaps like many of the others, they had left everything to follow him, or supported him out of their resources (see Luke 8:1-3).

Like many, they had had high hopes that Jesus was the One, the promised Messiah, the Anointed One, who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21) and set their people free.

But three days prior, Jesus had been crucified. Beaten and mocked by the religious and political authorities, hung on the cross for all to see. He experienced one of the most painful and horrific deaths imaginable, and with his death all of their hopes and dreams died too.

Stranger on the Road

But then earlier that morning, some of the women disciples had gone to the tomb and reported that his body was missing, but that an angel had appeared to them and told them that Jesus had risen. The two travelers on the road to Emmaus were confused. If Jesus had risen, where was he? Why didn’t he show himself to them?

I imagine that they had delayed their journey back to Emmaus as long as possible. They had waited all afternoon to see if Jesus would appear and show himself to them, but as the hour grew late, they reluctantly tore themselves away from the other followers of Jesus, and started the long7-mile trek back home just as the sun was starting to slip below the horizon. 

As they walked towards home, they discussed everything that had happened over the past week, and they were so engrossed in discussion that they didn’t notice the single, solitary figure walking behind them until he interrupted them to ask what they were talking about.

They were shocked that this stranger didn’t know all of the events that had taken place in Jerusalem that week, but I imagine that they were glad for the chance to process aloud everything that had happened.

Bible Study with Jesus

After hearing them out, their traveling companion began to speak. Luke gives us merely the cliffnotes — that Jesus (whom they did not recognize), “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). 

Although Luke does not capture their discussion word-for-word, we can assume that what Jesus told his traveling companions that day was eventually passed on to the other disciples, and that the content of their conversation found its way into the various speeches throughout the book of Acts, and into the various letters written by the Apostles in the New Testament. 

Most likely Jesus pointed them to passages such as Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people,” and Isaiah 61:1 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” 

I imagine Jesus quoted passages such as Ezekiel 34:11-16, where God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel regarding God’s people who had been scattered, hurt, and abused by the corrupt religious and political leaders of the day. God told Ezekield, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” As he quoted these Scriptures, Jesus shared how each and every one of these prophecies pointed forward towards himself.

And of course, I’m sure Jesus took them to Isaiah 53:5, where the prophet Isaiah spoke of One who was “wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Jesus explained to the two travelers that his crucifixion had been necessary in order for the Scriptures to be fulfilled.

Dining with Jesus

The whole time Jesus was talking with them on the road, they felt like their hearts were burning within them (Luke 24:32). Although they still did not recognize Jesus, they were awestruck by what he had to say. When they arrived at their home, they urged him to stay with them and to share a meal with them (and, I imagine, to continue their conversation), since it was almost evening, and the day was nearly over. 

As they sat down to eat, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them — just as he had done so many times before. And in that moment, they recognized that this stranger was actually Jesus — risen from the dead, alive and in the flesh, sitting right in front of them! And in that moment, just as they realized who he was, he vanished from their sight. 

In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul narrates Jesus’s last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. Paul tells us that “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). 

This passage is often read when we celebrate Holy Communion together here in church. We break bread as a way of remembering that Christ’s body was broken for us. We drink wine/grape juice, as a way of remembering that Jesus’s blood was shed for us. We silently confess our sins before the Lord, we pass the peace to one another, and we experience anew God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness washing over us. Holy Communion is a beautiful and moving ceremony that Jesus gave to his disciples and to us, during which we remember the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

But when Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, and shared it with those two disciples in their home in Emmaus, this was not in the context of a church building or religious institution, nor was it part of a liturgical ceremony. Rather, it flowed from a simple and beautiful act of hospitality by two followers of Jesus, when they welcomed this stranger into their home and invited him to share a meal with them.

There in their home, when they sat around their table and broke bread and fellowshipped together, their eyes were opened to the fact that Jesus was right there with them, in their home, sitting at their table with them, dining with them.  

Love Feast

A few weeks ago, I explained that during this season when we’re not able to come together and meet in person for worship, that rather than participating in Holy Communion, we are encouraging you to practice another traditional Christian meal, the Love Feast, also called the Agape Meal. This is a meal that can be eaten together at home, with the other members of your household, or even as you fellowship with others via phone or technology. The Love Feast has often been practiced throughout history in those times and spaces when there were no clergy present to officiate the Communion service, or when people were not able to meet together for worship for fear of persecution.

Love Feasts typically involve sharing testimonies, and prayers and scripture readings, and food of any kind can be shared. In our home, our family has started doing devotions together as a family each morning during breakfast. We take turns reading a passage of Scripture and praying together before we start our day, and it has helped us draw closer together to God and to one another as a family.

When you fellowship and eat together, you may choose to say a prayer such as this:

Be present at our table, Lord;

Be here and everywhere adored;

Thy creatures bless, and grant that we

May feast in paradise with Thee.

“Be present at our table, Lord.” The simple and beautiful truth is that Christ is indeed present with us, just as he was with those two disciples in their home in Emmaus. Jesus is with us when we sit at our tables, whether we are alone or with friends or family. Jesus is present with us as fellowship with one another, whether in person or over the phone or the computer. He is present with us, whether we recognize Him or see Him. Jesus is even present with us in the faces of the strangers that we pass on the street and in the faces of those who are in need.

My prayer is that we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, would allow our hearts to burn within us as we read and hear Jesus’s words read or spoken aloud. Like those two disciples, may we invite Jesus into our homes and into our lives, to fellowship with us, and to commune with us. May we too learn to recognize the risen Christ in our midst, in the faces of our friends and our family members, and in the faces of strangers who are in need. And may we remember the tremendous sacrifice that Jesus made for us, every time we fellowship and break bread together. 

Seeing is Believing

Sunday April 19th 2020

Psalm 16:5-11; Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Pastor Galen Zook

I’ll Believe It When I See It

Two months ago, if you had told me that businesses, restaurants, and schools would all be shut down, that grocery stores would be completely out of toilet paper, and that we would all be walking around with masks on our faces, I’m pretty sure I would have told you, “I’ll believe it when I see it!” Even now, the whole situation that we find ourselves in due to the Coronavirus pandemic feels rather surreal and hard to believe.

Many of us have probably said something along the lines of “I’ll believe it when I see it” at various points in our lives. Even the most gullible among us often demand some sort of physical evidence when we’re confronted with the most implausible of scenarios.

The apostle Thomas, one of Jesus’s core inner 12 disciples, who followed Jesus for 3+ years, listening to his teachings and watching him heal people and do miracles, was understandably skeptical when his fellow disciples told him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas had not been there when Jesus appeared to the other disciples, and he refused to believe it until he saw Jesus for himself.

Physical Proof

The idea of someone rising again from the dead was not completely unheard of. Jesus had raised several people back to life during his ministry here on this earth. Thomas had even seen it happen. But the idea of someone resurrecting himself from the dead seemed completely impossible. How could Jesus, as wonderful and powerful as he was, raise himself from the grave? It seemed to defy all logic.

Not only that, but the type of resurrection that Jesus experienced was a resurrection unlike any other. In his resurrected body, Jesus was apparently able to walk through walls and appear and disappear out of nowhere. The other disciples had told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them in the room, when all of the doors and windows were locked. He just appeared out of nowhere, spoke to them, and then disappeared again.

To Thomas this probably sounded more like a ghost story than a resurrection story. And so he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). 

Thomas wanted to touch Jesus, to put his fingers in the holes where the nails had been driven through his hands and his feet. Only then would he know that Jesus was truly risen and that it was not some sort of spirit that was haunting his friends, or some sort of figment of their imagination.

Thomas wanted physical, tangible proof if he was going to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. And the surprising thing to me is that Jesus gave it to him! 

Jesus didn’t get offended or criticize Thomas for his unbelief. He wasn’t hurt that Thomas wanted to see him in the flesh. Instead, Jesus showed up, he revealed himself to Thomas and the other disciples, he invited Thomas to see and touch his hands, to reach out his hand and put it in his side. He met Thomas in his doubt and disbelief, and he invited him to believe.

Blessed are Those who have Not Seen and Yet Believe

Of course, Jesus does go on to say that those of us who have never seen Jesus in the flesh and yet believe are blessed — happy. I don’t think that he said that as some sort of snide passive-aggressive rebuke aimed at Thomas. 

Rather, Jesus was acknowledging that it’s difficult to believe in something that you have never seen, and so if we have been given the faith to believe without seeing, then we are indeed blessed. 

Just as we believe in the wind even though we can’t see it, because we feel it and we see the effects of the wind, so too many of us have felt the effects of Jesus in our lives. 

Perhaps you’ve been freed from fear, or anxiety, or addiction. Perhaps you’ve become kinder, or gentler, or more humble since Jesus has come into your life. Perhaps you’ve become more loving, merciful, or more grace-filled since you’ve received God’s forgiveness. Maybe there are other ways that you’ve felt the effects of Jesus’s resurrection in your life, and even though you haven’t seen him, you know that he’s alive because you’ve experienced Jesus in your life. Blessed — happy — are you!

For others, perhaps you’ve analyzed all of the data and the facts, and you’ve arrived at the logical conclusion that Jesus is alive. Just as we believe that certain historical figures are real based upon the detailed documentation of historians, and just as we believe certain events based upon the first-hand accounts of eye-witnesses, so too many of us rely upon the testimonies of those who have come before us. Even though you’ve never seen Jesus, you believe. Blessed — happy — are you! 

As I shared last week during the Easter message, for me, the idea that the Good News of Jesus’s resurrection was entrusted to women in a time when the testimony of women was not permissible in court leads me to conclude that the earliest disciples would never have fabricated such an account, and it’s one of the reasons that I believe it must be trust.

In the same way, Jesus’s male disciples are often depicted as skeptical, and prideful, and even disloyal to Jesus throughout the New Testament Gospel accounts. Why would they have ever chosen to depict themselves in that way unless it were true, and their lives had been utterly transformed by the power of the risen Christ?

All of this leads many of us to believe in Jesus’s resurrection, even though we haven’t seen him in the flesh. We believe based upon the testimony of others, or because we’ve experienced Jesus directly working in our lives. And because we believe even though we’ve never seen him, Jesus calls us blessed — happy.

Seeing the Risen Christ

Of course there are many in our world who struggle to believe, and it’s understandable. Many have never experienced the power of the risen Christ at work in their lives — or at least they have not recognized it to be so. Perhaps they don’t know any believers, or perhaps the believers they have met have not seemed so credible.

For many people, the conclusion that Christ has risen is not so logical, or not so obvious. In order to believe they need to see the risen Christ in the flesh. Like Thomas, they need to touch him, to see him, to experience him for themself in order to believe. 

But how they can do this, when Jesus has ascended back into heaven and no longer seems to be making physical appearances on this earth? How can we as the Church show the world the risen Christ? What proof can we offer to them that Jesus is alive?

The Body of Christ

Well, one of the most intriguing metaphors in the Bible is to the Church as the “Body of Christ.” In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27), and the book of Ephesians tells us, “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23).

Throughout the New Testament we see references of this sort that indicate that we, collectively as members of Christ’s church, are to be the physical, tangible presence of Christ in this world. 

And, just as Jesus was filled with God’s holy spirit, so too Jesus breathed on his disciples and said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).  As followers of Christ, we have been filled with God’s spirit, and we have been sent forth to be the living, breathing proof to the world that Jesus has risen.

While we may not be able to convince everyone that Jesus has risen, we provide further proof and evidence to the risen Lord when we live lives that are different from the world around us. When we love like Jesus loved, and serve like Jesus served, we proclaim Jesus to the world. When we gather on Sunday morning (the day that Jesus rose from the grave) for worship, whether here in our church building, or at home watching the livestream, we remember and proclaim that Christ has risen. When share our food with those who are hungry, when we serve at our Food Pantry even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when we call someone who is lonely to check in on them to make sure they are OK, when we love our family members and sacrificially put their needs before our own, we proclaim with our words and deeds that Jesus has risen.

Yes, we as Christ’s body have been wounded. Yes we have holes and scars. Yes we have been bruised and beaten. Yes we have failed and fallen short. And yet, Jesus has entrusted us with the responsibility to be his hands and feet, and to carry Christ’s message into all the world, to extend God’s love and grace and forgiveness to all the world.

So let’s show the world Christ’s hands and feet! Let us be the Body of Christ, in all of our wounded glory. Let us welcome the world to see, touch, and experience Christ’s body – the Church – in action. Let’s point them to the One who redeemed us and set us free, so that they too can say, along with the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

Fear and Great Joy

Sunday April 12th 2020 Easter Sunday

Pastor Galen Zook

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Matthew 28:1-10

Easter In the Time of a Pandemic

Easter is generally a time for joy and jubilation and wonderful celebrations. 

I can’t help but reflect back to last Easter, when our day began with a beautiful Easter Sonrise service in Roosevelt Park as we gathered together with churches from throughout the Hampden community. We then had a lovely worship service here in our church sanctuary, followed by a lively Easter Egg hunt in the park and a delicious pancake brunch on the porch. Everyone was decked out in their finest Easter hats and bonnets. It was truly a wonderful sight to behold. 

But this year feels very different. Most of us find ourselves alone, or with only a few close family members, as we follow the directives of our governmental leaders to stay at home, in light of the global coronavirus pandemic. 

In fact, for many of us it may not even seem like Easter at all. Yesterday as we were having lunch, my 4-year-old daughter asked us, “When is Easter?” When we informed her that it was the following day, she said, “What!? No one even told me!” Many of us can probably relate to that feeling.

But I can’t help but think that the women who journeyed to Jesus’s tomb early that first Easter morning probably felt a lot like many of us feel this year on Easter — somewhat lost in a fog, unsure of what day it is, and alone. Very alone.

The First Easter

The women who walked to the tomb early that first Easter morning probably felt like their lives had come to a grinding halt. Magdalene and “the other Mary” (which Mary it was, we’re not sure), had just lost Jesus — their teacher, the one who had healed them and freed them. Jesus, who always took the time to listen, who always knew just what to say. Their Jesus, the one they had followed and supported, the one they had built their hopes and dreams around, the one they loved, was gone.

Although it probably felt like an eternity ago, it had only been a few days prior that Jesus had been unjustly tried and crucified, hung on a cross for all to see, publicly mocked and shamed and humiliated. 

Often family members would go to the tomb a few days after the burial to make sure that their loved one was actually dead, since sometimes people who were thought to be dead were mistakenly buried. But in this case there was no doubt. The two Marys had seen him hanging on the cross, watched him breathe his last breath. They watched as his body was taken down from the cross and carried to the tomb and sealed with a stone. In this case there was no doubt. Jesus was most definitely dead.

And yet they woke up early that Sunday morning, and not being sure what to do, or where to go, they decided to go and see the tomb. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us what they intended to do there, only that they went to “see the tomb” (Matt. 28:1). Most likely they went to honor his memory, to pay their last respects. But also perhaps they went to find some semblance of hope or assurance, some sort of answer as to why everything had happened the way it happened.

He Is Risen!

But when they arrived at the tomb, suddenly there was a great earthquake! And an angel, a messenger of the Lord, came down from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it. The guards who had been watching over the tomb passed out from fear.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” Then the angel invited them to come and see the place where Jesus had been laid to rest. And indeed the tomb was empty — he was not there!

The angel commanded them to go quickly and tell the other disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

But on the way, Jesus appeared to them. And when they saw him, they bowed down, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

And then Jesus himself instructed them to go and tell his other disciples that he was alive, that they should go back to their home area of Galilee, and that there they would see Jesus.

True Story

It’s been said that one of the ways that we know this is a true story is because during that time period, the testimony of women was not permissible in court. The early church never would have invented a story like this and made women the first bearers of the good news. Like so many stories in the Bible, the counter-cultural nature of this story is one of the reasons that we know it must be true.

And so two of the most faithful, loyal women, who hardly ever get speaking roles in the Gospel narratives up until this point, were entrusted with the greatest news ever told!

Fear and Joy

I’m struck by the Gospel writer’s very brief and concise description of how the women responded. In these verses the women are speechless, but Matthew tells us that the women left the tomb quickly with fear (despite the fact that the angel told them not to be afraid!) but also with great joy, and that when they encountered the risen Jesus, they bowed down and worshiped him.

The women had good reason to be afraid. Most likely they were afraid that no one would believe them, that they would be accused of fabricating the whole story. Perhaps they were afraid that the religious and political leaders who had conspired to kill Jesus might try to do the same to them. 

And yet in the midst of all of that, they experienced great joy.

Today many of us experience a strange combination of fear and joy. Alongside the fears and anxieties and economic instability that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have also experienced moments of joy. Joy in the times shared with other members of our households. Joy in God’s provision and protection over ourselves and our loved ones. Even when we look outside and see the beautiful spring flowers, we might experience joy. 

Ultimately we know that joy is something that comes from God and it is not based solely upon our external realities We know that the joy that the women experienced that day came from God, because, even though Christ had risen from the grave, a lot of their external circumstances were still the same. They were still women, living in a male-dominated society. As Jews, they were still part of an oppressed minority, living under Roman occupation. And as Christ-followers, they were despised by the religious and political elites.

The joy that these women experienced was not because everything around them was suddenly coming up roses. No. The joy that they had was because they knew that somehow, some way, the fact that Jesus was alive changed everything. They maybe didn’t know how, they maybe didn’t know why, but they knew that Christ’s resurrection was indeed Good News, and it was worth sharing. And they knew that the fact that Jesus had died and was now alive again made him someone who was worthy of their worship. 

And so they did.

Here I am to Worship

Friends, this morning our Easter celebration may be marked by both fear and joy, just as it was for the two Marys on that first Easter morning. But even if we don’t understand everything that is happening around us, or why it’s happening, we too can still choose to worship. 

As we look at the world around us, we have many reasons to feel fear, as well as sorrow and grief. There is much in our world that is not the way it should be, and that is worth lamenting. 

But Jesus is alive! And that is good news worth celebrating! Jesus is alive, and He is worthy of our worship. Jesus is alive, and he is worthy of our love and devotion. 

In fact, the resurrection of Christ is what makes it clear to us that Jesus is worthy of our worship, because the resurrection would neer have happened if Jesus had not died on the cross. Death is a necessary first step in order for resurrection to take place. 

The amazing thing is that Jesus willingly endured the cross — willingly suffered and died for us, because of his great love for — so that, just as he was raised to new life, we too can experience eternal life through him. 

In Christ’s suffering and death on the cross we see clearly that Jesus understands our pain and our suffering, and in Christ’s resurrection we see that death does not have the final word. Because Jesus conquered sin and death and the grave, we do not have to be afraid of what might come our way, and we can experience joy even in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can have true and everlasting joy.

Like the women, we may not understand everything that is happening around us. But Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. Jesus is alive, and so we are not alone. Jesus is alive, and he is worthy of our worship and our praise. 

So let’s come to Jesus in worship, bringing our fears, and our joys. Let’s bow before the risen Lord, knowing that because Jesus lives, we too can live!